Thursday, April 21, 2011

High School Athletes on Dope? Not Really, But Roughly 1/3 Uses "Performance Enhancing Supplements"

"Don't you take those steroids!" Does this remind you of your mother, when, back in high school, you bought your first tub of creatine monohydrate? Recent doping "scandals" have, yet again, raised the awareness, or should I say panicky fear of parents and coaches that their children and wards are going to be delinquent, when they save their allowances for a shopping spree at the local GNC. Accordingly, many of them will not be happy to hear that a recent study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (Piattolly. 2011) found that "[a]lmost a third [32.2%] of the high school sample surveyed reported using nutritional or performance enhancement supplements."
Figure 1: Type of performance enhancing supplement used by high school athletes (data adapted from Piattolly. 2011)
Interestingly, of those 32.2% of the young athletes that reported using supplements, the majority were male (87%) and in the age group of 15-17 year-olds. Prevalent sports were baseball (17.8%), football (32.7%), and track and field (22.3%) and the most popular supplements were protein shakes, multivitamins, NO2 boosters and creatine (cf. figure 1), of which more than 50% of the respondent used two or more in combination.

An interesting secondary finding of the study relates to gender differences and the afore mentioned role of parents in their children's choice and consumption of performance enhancing supplements:
When gender comparisons were made, significant t-tests demonstrated that young women rated higher on taking supplements to improve strength, increase size, decrease body fat (p < 0.05) to become a better athlete, and increase physique. With the exception of decrease body fat, all p-values were < 0.001. Significantly more young women reported learning about the supplement from a teammate or friend (p < 0.05), while young men reported learning about the supplement from their parents (p < 0.05).
It is, however, unsettling to know that other than the 25% of the athletes who "said they would consult a nutritionist or physician (25%)" to make sure they chose the right supplements, 26% of the young athletes conceded that "they would take a supplement that could harm their health if they could receive a scholarship".

In view of this last-mentioned result, the fears and anxieties of parents appear in a very different light. Banning or restricting the consumption of harmless supplements like protein shakes will yet hardly solve a dilemma that is rooted much more deeply within a scholarship system where athletic and lately cognitive performance is so tightly bound to the future prospects of adolescents that "doping" muscle and/or brain are on the verge of becoming the norm rather than the exception.